What does TikTok know about you? Experts reveal how much data it collects & how to make profiles more secure

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Last week TikTok was banned on UK government phones due to privacy concerns - here’s how much information the app is collecting from you and how to make your profile more secure.

TikTok has fast become one of the most controversial apps on the internet. Last week, the UK announced the app would be banned on UK government phones due to privacy concerns from Chinese owners of the app, ByteDance. Additionally, the US is considering a ban on the app altogether unless ByteDance sells the company.

While all social media platforms collect information, experts say the risk with TikTok especially, is that it remains unclear what exactly happens to your data, where it’s stored, and with whom TikTok does or doesn’t share user data. When talking about the purpose of collecting information, the TikTok privacy policy merely includes statements such as “improving the user experience.”

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TikTok claims user data is only saved on servers in Singapore and the United States rather than on Chinese servers. Indeed, it has not been possible for fact-checkers to find any transmissions to other countries, such as China. However, the claim is not completely verifiable.

A spokesperson from VPNOverview commented:  “When it comes down to it, TikTok is not a privacy-conscious app. In certain ways, it’s more invasive than other social media platforms, though it’s important to keep in mind that all social media companies collect tons of private information that they can easily sell to unknown third parties and law enforcement agencies. Users should optimise the privacy settings and make themselves aware of the platform’s data policies for their own privacy."

Fear not, Cyber security experts at VPNOverview decided to investigate how much data TikTok collects from its users, why this has led to government bans, and how users can make their profiles more secure.

So, what data is TikTok collecting from you? Here’s everything you need to know including tips from VPNOverview on how to best protect yourself.

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Why has TikTok been banned from UK government phones?

The UK government banned the app on government devices following an April 2022 update giving Chinese employees access to data belonging to TikTok’s European users. This raised concerns that ByteDance might be collecting data from TikTok users and passing it on to the Chinese government.

The UK government released a statement regarding TikTok privacy concerns, which read: "The government, along with our international partners, is concerned about the way in which this data may be used." The worry is that the Chinese-owned app was able to access data from devices, including geolocation, calendar, contacts, and even the sim card serial number.

The Scottish Government is following the UK in banning TikTok from official devicesThe Scottish Government is following the UK in banning TikTok from official devices
The Scottish Government is following the UK in banning TikTok from official devices

What data does TikTok collect from you?

These are all the data TikTok collects from its users:

  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • Date of birth
  • Profile information, including photos and videos
  • Device information, including keystroke patterns
  • Location information based on SIM card and/or IP address
  • App activity
  • Phone contact list
  • Browser and search history
  • Any text, images, and video on your device’s clipboard, if you copy and paste something into the app
  • Biometric information (face and voice print)
  • Information from other social media accounts

How can I protect my data whilst using TikTok?

1. Make yourself anonymous

The first thing to do is create a TikTok account that doesn’t immediately reveal your identity. You can use a secondary anonymised email address and remove personally identifiable information wherever possible.

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Using a fake name and birth date will make you less likely to become a victim of identity theft. VPNOverview also add that it’s important not to link TikTok to other social media accounts. The more information TikTok can use to build up your profile, the more the app will infringe upon your privacy.

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2. Set your account to private

Setting your account to private will allow you to determine who gets to see your content. This can greatly improve your online security if you’re not yet ready to delete TikTok.

There are a few ways to do this. Under Privacy and Safety:

  • Toggle off the “Suggest your accounts to others“
  • Toggle off the “Find your contacts“
  • Filter “Who can send you direct messages” to Friends

3. Don’t let others download your videos

You can change this setting by going to the Privacy and Safety menu in your account and toggling off “Allow others to download my videos.”  This will prevent people from storing your videos elsewhere without your permission.

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